If I were to ask you, “who do you think are, or were, the most extraordinary kendo people in the world?” What would your answers be? Teramoto Shoji? Uchimura Ryoichi? Perhaps you believe that the last generation All Japan Championship winners were – such as the great Eiga Naoki or Miyazaki Masahiro? Chikamoto?
Maybe the current All Japan Hachidan Championship combatants are more impressive to you and you might answer “Higashi-sensei” or similar. Maybe the past era sensei and modern forefathers of kendo such as Nakayama-sensei or Takano-sensei will always be a cut above the rest?
Of course, these are all very subjective replies to what is an obviously loaded question with no real answer, only opinions, contextual opinions at that. Let’s be serious for a moment, though, and clarify what I mean by the “most extraordinary” in this context.
If I were to mean the most technically complete and skilful opponent, I might be prone to answer my own question, were I asked, with “Teramoto Shoji!” But if I had meant the hardest to overcome in shiai, not that I could even comprehend how hard it would be, I might answer with “Miyazaki Masahiro.” The fastest and most amazing footwork award would perhaps go to “Chikamoto”; mentally toughest and sharpest might be “Higashi-sensei” and so on and so forth…
But by “extraordinary” kendo people, I actually mean those who embody (or embodied) all out grit and determination to see things properly through. To do one’s level best, despite enduring immense hardship, through each opportunity – as if it they had only one chance to get it right…
So often, we make excuses about our kendo, I have definitely been guilty of this on many occasions… “I had an injury”, “I’m recovering from the flu”, “I’ve been too busy”, “The shimpan didn’t see” and yet, and yet… variations of those same excuses spill over into our personal lives, too – or maybe it’s vice-versa.
Back to extraordinary kendo people though, I do indeed marvel at the fitness, speed, power and finesse of the current crop All Japan Senshuken combatants, and I am in awe of the technical brilliance and displays of mental and physical power that I see in the All Japan Hachidan Taikai every year. I cannot even begin to comprehend the fortitude and complex mindsets of our modern kendo forefathers. There are no doubts that you can apply the adjective “extraordinary” to any one of the earlier-mentioned, exemplified individuals.
But there are a few more individuals out there that I am ever more deeply impressed by; their names you have probably never heard before.
These kenshi are sometimes never really noticed in the first place; you might even practice with some of them and not even realize it. Oftentimes, they are the ones that have laid or maintained the foundations for our own kendo but sometimes receive little to no credit for doing so. Sometimes, they may add a dynamic to your own kendo group/s that is intangible until it’s gone. During jigeiko, some of these people are easy to hit. So why would I see these people as “extraordinary” if they are so easy to hit?
Like many things “kendo”, it’s complicated, in part you would have to revert to the “Concept of Kendo” and what kendo, at its core, was/is envisaged it to be:
The concept of Kendo is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the Katana (sword).
Further, you would need to refresh yourself on “The Purpose of Practicing Kendo”.
The purpose of practicing Kendo is:
To mold the mind and body,
To cultivate a vigorous spirit,
And through correct and rigid training,
To strive for improvement in the art of Kendo,
To hold in esteem human courtesy and honor,
To associate with others with sincerity,
And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.
This will make one be able:
To love his/her country and society,
To contribute to the development of culture,
And to promote peace and prosperity among all peoples.
In these “cloak-and-dagger” times that we live in, it’s refreshing to see that somewhere, somehow, people are still associating with each other with courtesy, sincerity and honesty. Not only cultivating themselves and their own culture, but also helping to cultivate others’ through the practice of Japanese swordsmanship.
It’s even more impressive to me that some of these individuals give so much of themselves while facing great adversities – extraordinary, in fact! On to the point:
I suspect I couldn’t walk for even one mile in the shoes of someone who can simultaneously manage a professional career, raise a beautiful and healthy young family and still help others to practice and learn about budo – all while enduring a terminal illness.
I don’t think I could come back after a long battle with cancer to help kids at my local dojo to be the best they can be, all at an advanced age.
I don’t think I will ever be passing nanadan in my 70’s, if at all, especially if I were female, frail and facing much younger, stronger (hungry!) male opponents during the exam.
I don’t believe that, knowing my days were numbered, I could continue to inspire a whole Renmei from my wheelchair and see to affairs right up until the very last weeks.
These people are not always elderly too; just take a look at George’s late student and friend, Suzunosuke, if you want a recent example of an “extraordinary” and young kendo person who was able to achieve something seemingly impossible, and inspire countless individuals in all corners of the globe and society.
These individuals contain in inner strength and resolve that I don’t believe I could ever muster. Not only that but a steadfastness in their own moral capacity towards others, that, as we know, even some championship winning, and senior, budo people do not have.
So, while I am always amazed by the “Miyazaki’s” and the “Teramoto’s” of the world, they are not yet on my personal list of “most extraordinary”, though through no fault of their own. This may be simply because I am not aware of their respective hardships and contributions to kendo as I know it. It’s all relative.
Everyone has a “kendo story” in the making and their own personal kendo journey. In time to come, will people be inspired by yours?
Perhaps you would like to share someone’s story in the comments section here?